Verse of the Day 8.29.17 — 2 Corinthians 2:14
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.1
14 Τῷ δὲ θεῷ χάρις τῷ πάντοτε θριαμβεύοντι ἡμᾶς ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ καὶ τὴν ὀσμὴν τῆς γνώσεως αὐτοῦ φανεροῦντι διʼ ἡμῶν ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ2
For more context concerning the church at Corinth, please see the earlier post on 1 Cor 2:12.
C4C Translation: But thanks be to God, who, in Christ, always leads us as captives in triumphal procession and manifests the aroma of the knowledge of Him through us in every place.
- The verb translated as “lead as captives in a triumphal procession” (NIV) or “lead in triumphal procession” (NRSV, ESV) or “lead in triumph” (NASB95), θριαμβεύω (thriambeuō), has been the subject of much debate.
- Some believe it is best translated “make known.” “The idea that God ‘always’ makes the apostles known has a parallel in the same section of 2 Corinthians (6:9; cf. 1 Cor 4:9) and forms a good background to 2:14b: Because God makes the apostles known, he can spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of him” through them.”3
- However, we must consider the metaphor of the Roman Victory Procession
Roman Victory Procession
According to scholars, “The general picture in verse [2 Cor 2:14a] is of a Roman victory procession…”4 In ancient times, following major military victories, Roman leaders often had extravagant triumphal parades (triumphas).5 There are around 350 of such triumphal processions recorded in Greco-Roman literature.6 Paul’s metaphor would have especially resonated with residents in the Roman city of Corinth.7
These processions would often feature ostentatious displays of the spoils looted from the defeated city, pictures of the vanquished town, and even mobile stages reenacting scenes of the battle. Through the city of Rome these parades, some of which lasted three days, would roll on the wheels of chariots until they reached the Capitoline Hill and the Temple of Jupiter.8 Parade participants would include magistrates, senators, trumpeters, flute players, white oxen (who were to be sacrificed in the temples), and, of course, the general or emperor. The Roman leader, the triumphator who was being honored, rode in the most majestic chariot while dressed in the garb of the Roman god Jupiter, scepter in his left hand and crown (held by a slave) above his head.9
What may be of greatest importance in this metaphorical depiction, however, is that of the Roman soldiers who proceeded behind the triumphator proclaiming, “Io triumphe!” (“Hail, triumphant one!”),10 and a sampling of the captives from the defeated army that preceded before. These slaves, which often included the foreign king and his family, would be led in chains to the prison near the Temple of Jupiter — where they would be executed.11
So, in this metaphor, who are the Christians? The soldiers with which God — the general/emperor — are parading triumphantly in every place? Or the captured slaves which God — the general/emperor — is parading triumphantly in every place?
It seems that the NASB95 translation accords well with the view of Calvin, who believed that Paul was essentially saying that God always leads us (Christians) in triumph. For “how could Paul praise God for leading him as a vanquished and dishonored prisoner?”12
However, I agree with scholars that maintain that Paul is portraying Christians as the captured slaves of Christ. Garland lists for reasons:
- It accords well with Paul’s view of himself, and Christians in general, as former “enemies of God” (Rom 5:10) –who had been, in some ways, defeated by God. As defeated foes of God, we bring glory to His name.
- It fits Paul’s humble view of himself and serves as an apologetic against the Corinthians who may have been doubting Paul’s apostolic authority due to his incessant suffering (cf. 1 Cor 4:9-13). “Paul insists that his suffering does not nullify his power as an apostle but that it reveals more clearly the power of God.”13
- It fits Paul’s “self-identification as a slave of Christ,” a servant that has been captured in love (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 9:16–23; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Titus 1:1; 1 Cor 7:22; Eph 6:6; Col 4:12; 2 Tim 2:24).14
- It appears to accord well with Paul’s “assurance of God’s final rescue.”15 For the triumphator would often mercifully spare some of the captives who were marching to their deaths.16
This interpretation is not too surprising given Paul’s penchant for paradoxes. For he “delight[s] in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when [he is] weak, then [he is] strong” (2 Cor 12:10, NIV).17
As the one of characters from the film War Room put it pointedly, “If you want victory, you must first surrender.” Such is the paradox of Christian discipleship: denial of self (Lk 9:23), obedient service (Mt 20:26-28; Jn 14:15), suffering, and — eventually — glorification (Rom 8:16-17).
And, through us (though of course not entirely nor exclusively), God makes Himself known and spreads His message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-20).
Memorize 2 Corinthians 2:14 after watching a brief video tutorial demonstrating the How To Memorize Any Bible Verse in Less Than Five Minutes method below:
- The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 2 Co 2:14.
- Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature, 2011–2013), 2 Co 2:14.
- Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990–), 155.
- Paul Barnett, The Message of 2 Corinthians: Power in Weakness, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 52.
- Ibid. “The most spectacular procession of the first century was the celebration of the conquest of the Jews when, in AD 71, the Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus rode in chariots through the streets of Rome behind their pathetic prisoners of war. Josephus, the Jewish historian, records this at length, and it also depicted on the Titus Arch in Rome, where it may still be seen.”
- Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press, 2005), 243.
- David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 143
- David E. Garland, 2 Corinthians, vol. 29, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 142.
- Murray J. Harris, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Milton Keynes, UK: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.; Paternoster Press, 2005), 244.
- Harris, 244
- Garland, 142. Harris, 244.
- Garland, 140
- Garland, 145
- Garland, 147